This Award goes to a player or team that nobody expected to do well. It goes to someone that people had hardly heard of, but who has since become a hero.
The nominees are:
Dustin Pedroia - 2B, Boston Red Sox
Tim Thomas - G, Boston Bruins
Randy Moss - WR, Patriots
Hideki Okajima - RP, Boston Red Sox
Boston College football
And the winner is…
Hideki Okajima of the Red Sox!
Nobody knew anything about Okajima when the Red Sox signed him to a modest $1.25M per year contract. The signing occurred almost simultaneously with the Daisuke circus. With the Red Sox adding Matsuzaka, JD Drew, and Julio Lugo; Okajima didn’t get any attention.
Most fans saw Okajima as a perk given to Daisuke, a buddy from the old country to help ease the adjustment to the new, a fellow speaker of Japanese in the locker room who could be Matsuzaka’s surrogate big brother.
But we all found out that Okajima was in fact, a phenomenal pitcher. The wakeup call came on April 20th. Before then, Okajima had been used in somewhat of a mop up role, pitching in blowouts or losses. He had impressed Francona, though, so Terry put him into the fire.
On the 20th, the Yankees were in town. The Red Sox scored 5 runs in the 8th to go from 6-2 down to 7-6 up. But Papelbon wasn’t available to pitch the 9th. So Francona called on Okajima to face Jeter, Abreu, and Rodriguez. Hideki got Jeter to groundout, walked Abreu, A-Rod lined out, and Thompson struck out to end the game. It was Okajima’s first save of his Major League career, and it was about as hard as a save can get.
The next game, also against New York, Okajima pitched a perfect 0.2 to earn the first Hold of his career. He’d go on to get 27 Holds, good for 3rd in the American League. He also added 5 Saves, and only 2 Blown Saves.
By the end of the season, he appeared to run out of gas. On July 14th, his ERA was 0.79. This would balloon up to 2.22 by the end of the season. Until games 3 and 4 of the World Series, he was not scored upon in the playoffs. He still had solid post-season numbers, with a 2.45 ERA and a WHIP of 1.091, but removing those last two outings makes his numbers look astonishing. Apart from the last two games, he pitched 9.2 innings, allowing 5 hits, 3 walks, and 0 runs. That’s a 0.00 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.827.
Okajima went from a shot in the dark signing perceived by most to be an effort to please Dice-K, to an All-Star, to an integral part of the Red Sox World Championship. The only thing that would make him more like Tom Brady would be a degree from Michigan and a supermodel girlfriend.